Shin Godzilla


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Shin Godzilla
"There's certainly a giant monster, there's definitely some degree of rampaging."

Shin Godzilla is an odd duck, not just in the sense that its titular entity neither walks nor quacks like one but because of a weird hybridity. It finds an uneasy line between the fundamental nonsenses of giant monster and an at times cutting portrait of technocratic and bureaucratic response to disaster.

Making a special appearance in UK cinemas, this iteration of Godzilla is the first from TOHO in some time. A brief cameo at the end of Kong Skull Island and Gareth Edwards' pre-Rogue One reward for Monsters notwithstanding, the King of The Monsters has been lurking, waiting.

'Shin' (wonkishness follows) has been translated as 'resurgence' but the nature of its writing leaves it open to other homophonic parallels - a list that includes 'evolved', 'god', 'real', and 'belief,' all of which have some support within the text.

This is not the return many expected. In the opening a meeting montage (on-screen text advises that "the following sequence has been compressed") shows us the iterarative response of the government to catastrophe never quite being enacted by sub-committees re-convening in the appropriate conference rooms. It does serve to introduce us to Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), a rising star in government circles, and now that Tokyo's caught in Gojira's path someone who will be dragged with it. Dragged, initially, because the big green guy flops puppet-y across the borough, almost ridiculous, but saved by what is perhaps the film's greatest and weakest feature.

Co-Directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi have bodies of work that stray into the two-dimensional (Neon Genesis Evangelion for Anno) and have worked with big big bads (Attack On Titan for Higuchi) but here they have created a towering ennui - perhaps the 'real' allowed by that titular trick - flattened affect abounds, and though punctuated by moments of intermittently outrageous wonder there is something in its tone that may be found grating. A tone shared, sadly, by Satomi Ishihara's role as an American apparatchik, "Kayoko Ann Patterson". Acting in a second language cannot be easy, but elements of her performance undercut potentially more subtle explorations of the relative dichotomies between the modern Japanese state and its occupying ally.

If I were feeling my critical oats I'd argue that the various appearances of the titular monster could in some ways be a reflection of Godzilla's outings filmicly, initially somewhat embarassing, even, but no less powerful, growing progressively more sophisticiated, but that makes the notional sequel sting (literally in the tail) a pretty grand cake and eat it. A film can be as on the nose about its intent as Logan was and get away with it, because it's a good film. It's probably charitable to try to ascribe a meta-narrative to Shin Godzilla because if there is a key to understanding it that key is nowhere near as explicit as Shane's contribution to the tale of an aging Wolverine.

Having said that, there's a dossier that's quite important to the story, the one that gives us the name Gojira (this film, as with so many other creature features, existing in a world where films of the genre it represents do not exist within the depicted popular consciousness), and it contians a note that reads "do what you will". One wonders if Anno (who writes) treated that as an instruction. The oft-unremarked addendum to Crowley's declaration that this should be the whole of the law is "so long as you harm none". Here it's less clear that no harm has been done.

There are scenes across a real Tokyo that look less realistic than equivalents in Akira or other anime, but that might be the uncanny valley. There are clear references to rubber-suit era monsters in the way this new Godzilla moves, but also clear consequences of modern computer graphics - some assets are re-used, blatantly so, but new powers are revealed - the discovery of Godzilla's radioactive nature (already known to select audiences) is well-handled, echoes of more recent catastrophes abound, and there are moments where that atomic-age horror is perhaps paralleled in more recent militaristic concerns. There's certainly a giant monster, there's definitely some degree of rampaging, but there's also a scene where a conference room is set up with what amounts to a multi-function device (your slash-happy synchronised scanner/printer/copier) display team. At two hours it comes close to outstaying its welcome, but a swift hand at the edit saves a lot of the pace. Not completely, sadly, as the arrival of the classic Godzilla theme over the credits is probably too long coming.

I find myself weaseling on this one because I've not managed to reach a decision yet. The things I liked in it were not necessarily the things that I had expected to like from a Godzilla movie, but I've also got a fondness for the tight, stagey two-hander about the obligations between fathers and sons that makes up that shouty bit with the chairs in the middle of Ang Lee's Hulk. The technothriller aspects of realpolitik and that endless succession of conference rooms and ministerial offices did a lot to ground a film whose central entity is a fire-breathing laser-shooting sky-scraping weird creature. In trying to describe it I have considered it as a Godzilla film for those who don't like Godzilla films, but I'm not sure even of that. I fear that some of its tone comes from an attempt to ironise a genre that can no more survive irony than it can a reasonable appreciation of the inverse-square law.

The monster has ever been figurative, since beauty, not bi-planes, killed the beast, but foregrounding that substitution makes for a heavy-handedness that discomfits. If made explicit, things feel clumsy but too much subtlety or exercises left for the reader risks castles of fancy built on naught but air - the line, perhaps, between Wag The Dog and Inception. So let me be as clear as I can be. I'm of mixed mood, but I am glad I saw it. You may be too.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2017
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Japan is plunged into chaos upon the appearance of a giant monster.

Director: Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi

Writer: Hideaki Anno

Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara

Year: 2016

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Japan

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